NC’s Balanced Position on Brand Policy
Many differing perspectives require compromises in policy, which means a broader vision for the entire industry. The policy process at Nebraska Cattlemen (NC) can sometimes be tedious as members work toward a balanced approach that usually finds middle ground for issues facing the industry.
Nothing highlights that more than the years of brand policy at Nebraska Cattlemen. The very foundation of the Nebraska Stockgrowers was brand policy, as that organization conducted the brand activities until 1941. A Supreme Court decision then caused the establishment of the Nebraska Brand Committee.
The line that divides the brand inspection area from the non-inspection area had been roughly drawn by Stockgrowers members who wanted the service. With the formation of the Nebraska Brand Committee, that line carried over into the new state agency. Some Nebraska Cattlemen members live inside the inspection area, while others live outside it. However, all NC members live in the brand-recording and investigation area as those are statewide activities.
Nebraska’s robust cattle feeding industry developed in the intervening years, and cattle marketing changed considerably since then. These changes have resulted in differing brand law requirements, as well as differing attitudes toward brand law, which NC has navigated to find a middle ground among membership.
In late November 2019, NC learned that Sen. John Stinner, Appropriations Committee chairman, planned to bring legislation that would end brand inspection and investigation. Under this legislation, brand recording would be transferred to the Department of Agriculture along with any cash funds from user fees. (The Brand Committee receives no state funds, so the cash funds are user fees.) Permission to use the cash funds must be granted through the Appropriations Committee.
The Nebraska Brand Committee has gone through several clerical staff changes in recent years. Additionally, there were some budget miscalculations a few years ago as well as front-loaded costs for moving the paper-based system to a more efficient electronic system. This necessitated further funding from the Appropriations Committee and concerns were raised that the committee would not be viable if those type of emergency funds were needed. However, because of the way their funds were divided, the Nebraska Brand Committee cash fund has continued to increase.
The NC Brand and Property Rights Committee meeting in December held extensive discussions about how to approach NC policy on the brand statutes, which resulted in a motion to develop a task force to make recommendations to the Legislative Committee in January. That task force was appointed and met in mid-December, making slight tweaks in NC policy.
At that time, the Nebraska Brand Committee was also working on a proposed legislative bill that attempted to address all stakeholder concerns. For example, some registered feedlots were concerned about the large cost they were bearing and wanted relief. Some wanted to be removed entirely from brand inspection, as some feedlots in our state as well as other feeding states are out of the inspection area. These Nebraska registered feedlots are required to have cattle inspected into the yards, but when they ship to a packer, they write a shipper affidavit and the cattle are not brand inspected. Instead, they are audited throughout the year to ensure the numbers match up. They are charged the inspection fee, currently $1 per head, multiplied by their annual average capacity. Some feedlots have asked that they be charged an audit fee to more accurately reflect the service.
The Brand Committee bill would also change the practice of collecting a surcharge to cover travel costs to charging the actual mileage incurred by the inspector. The Brand Committee must reimburse the inspectors for miles driven at the Federal reimbursement rate (currently $.545/mile).
The bill would also increase recording fees. Nebraska is the lowest by far of any neighboring brand-recording states. This would bring in more funds from those out of the inspection area who are recording brands and can receive investigation.
Also included in the bill would be the ability to utilize electronic identification methods at the discretion of the producer. If this method were chosen, physical inspection would not be required and the fees could be lower.
Sen. Stinner’s bill was introduced as LB 1165 and Sen. Tom Brewer introduced LB 1200, the Nebraska Brand Committee Bill. Nebraska Cattlemen’s Legislative Committee determined that LB 1200 best represented the most perspectives of the diverse membership and was a good compromise, keeping services much appreciated by many members and including a way to reduce the burden on feedlots. It was close to NC’s policy; therefore NC supported the bill.
Following the Ag Committee hearing, neither bill advanced. There was movement to amend another bill to develop a Legislative Working Group to work on a bill that would be supported by all interested parties in the state. However, due to the recess for COVID 19, that did not occur.
Sen. Steve Halloran, Ag Committee chairman, did introduce a legislative resolution establishing an informal task force. The task force will meet two to three times before reporting through a hearing to the Ag Committee on recommendations for a bill in the 2021 Unicameral.
Nebraska Cattlemen has been invited to take part in the task force and will be there, continuing to find that middle ground that represents all members.
Written By: Melody Benjamin, NC Vice President of Member Services